You may be the primary caregiver for your loved one. However, do not think of yourself as the only caregiver. Ask for help, and accept help when it is offered. This can be difficult for many people. You may feel that you should take care of your loved one by yourself. You may feel uncomfortable accepting help, and even more uncomfortable asking for it. Perhaps you think asking for help is hard for friends and family. But think about what would happen if the roles were reversed. Wouldn’t you want to help a friend or family member who was in your situation?
Getting help also means you should take some time to care for yourself. While you may feel as if you need to be with your loved one 100 percent of the time, perhaps he or she feels guilty about all the time you spend with him or her, and would like for you to have a break. Your loved one will be happy knowing that you are taking time for yourself. And with new caregivers comes a new viewpoint, a fresh set of hands and perhaps new skills, which can all benefit your loved one.
Some people may offer specific help. “Let me take her to her treatment,” or, “I’m making you dinner tonight.” This kind of help is easier to accept. However, when someone offers general help, “What can I do?” do not automatically say, “Nothing, we are fine.” And do not shy away from calling close friends or family members to help out. Prepare a list of things ahead of time that anyone can do. For example:
Giving someone a specific task will make that person feel better, and give you a much needed break.
You may want to use our CarePages program for assigning people tasks. CarePages provides a type of blog where friends and family can sign up and receive updates on the patient’s condition. They can also sign up for driving, cooking or other helpful activities.
While most people will be happy to help and glad you reached out, some may say no. You may feel hurt that a certain family member never offered to help, or that a request for help was denied.
There are many reasons for their refusals. Perhaps the person is going through a difficult time that you do not know about. Maybe he or she feels uncomfortable being around sick people, or just does not realize how stressed you are. If you value the relationship, do not be afraid of talking to them and discussing your situation with them. You do not want bad feelings to build up and affect your relationship with this person.
Another option for help is respite (pronounced REH-spit) help. Respite helpers are either volunteer or paid workers who can assist you with your needs. Talk to your loved one about having someone come to help out, either occasionally or on a regular basis. Get referrals for respite organizations from family, friends or hospital workers.
There are many agencies that offer respite help, and the process differs with each agency. Typically, a caregiver will follow these steps to receive respite help:
Keep in mind that it is common to be on a waiting list for respite help.
Asking for and accepting help does not mean you have failed in some way. It is not your job to shoulder the responsibility alone. Doing so may leave you feeling lonely and overburdened. Reach out to others, and let them help you.
Make an appointment with our social work services to discuss respite help.
Contact us in Cancer Support Services at 202-877-CARE (2273).